WSU finds itself in familiar territory this Saturday when it opens the gates to Martin Stadium after a huge upset on the road. In 2013, victories away from the friendly confines over No. 25 USC and Arizona preceded crucial home wins, one of them being against a decent Utah team to clinch a bowl. Stringing wins together has been a difficult ask for the Cougs this last decade, and it won't be that much easier this Saturday against an Oregon State team that appears to be suffering a bit of rebuildingitis.
In the last decade or so, Oregon State has been a different animal for Wazzu. It seems that every time positive momentum starts building in Pullman, the Beavers show up like a well-cast movie foil to completely derail things.
In 2005, WSU started out hot at 3-0 with convincing wins in their non-conference, then a loss to Oregon State (5-6 that season) started what would become a seven game losing streak. In 2007, The Beavers (9-4) put a nail in the coffin for WSU -- who sat at four wins with two games remaining -- by tuning them up 55-17 in front of a rain-soaked crowd that watched Alex Brink throw six interceptions.
In 2011, many thought the Cougs might be turning a corner after three previous seasons that, when combined, could only muster two wins against FBS opponents with losses in its 32 other games by an average margin of just over 30 points. The Cougs sat at 3-3 with six games remaining and had been playing pretty decently. An OSU team that ultimately would finish 3-9 lit them up 44-21 and the remaining road to a bowl game became too difficult to navigate.
2013 saw the Cougs start out 4-2, but they got waxed at home -- 55-24 -- by a mediocre (7-6) OSU team that had won four in a row after losing to Eastern Washington in week one.
Many fans don't think much of the Beavers this season. I'd strongly recommend you re-evaluate how comfortable you are saying a Gary Andersen coached team isn't very good. They'll be well coached, well prepared, and totally capable of David Copperfield-ing the growing momentum surrounding the WSU program after a huge win in Autzen.
It wouldn't be the first time they spoiled a good thing for Cougs.
What has me concerned about Oregon State
Seth Collins. WSU did ok limiting the run against the zone-read quarterbacks for Oregon, which were really de-emphasized with the success Royce Freeman was having. Alie walked in for the Ducks first TD and Lockie managed an improbable 35 yard scramble, but other than that, they only had 17 yards on 8 attempts. Some of those concerns about stopping a mobile QB running veer are still lingering. Oregon just decided not to test the Cougs with it too much, and their neighbors in Corvallis definitely will.
Beaver QB Seth Collins is an incredible athlete that loves to run -- he was primarily recruited by Division 1 schools as a wide receiver. He remained set on playing quarterback and the Beavs gave him a shot, which is already paying some dividends. Collins is the 9th-leading rusher in the conference, averaging 72.5 yards per game.
Let's play a game with rushing statistics from this season; can you guess who Player A and Player B are?*
Storm Barrs-Woods. Always be concerned when an All-Name Team player suits up on the opposing sideline. The OSU running back is averaging around 11 attempts per game, two less than Collins, but has a very respectable 5.75 yards per attempt. Stopping OSU rush attempts on first and second down will be key, as the Beavs move from a middling S&P+ rank of 57th on offense during the first couple downs to 98th on third down.
Vitamin-V. Sophomore Jordan Villamin is leading the team with 20 receptions for 300 yards and three TDs. Victor Boldin is second in receptions at 17 for 109 yards and one TD. OSU will attempt, on average, only 27 passes a game and is completing just shy of 50 pct of them. The receivers don't get a lot of receptions, about seven per game between the two of them, but they do also factor in on fly sweeps; Bolden is actually the third leading rusher with 96 yards this season, and typically gets around 4 rush attempts per game.
*Player A is Seth Collins - OSU quarterback, Player B is Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington combined
Gina Mizell, fantastic beat reporter for the OSU Beavers at The Oregonian, was kind enough to give us some insights
What are you most confident in about the Oregon State Beavers?
"After Saturday's drubbing at Arizona? Not a whole lot. After showing some signs of progress — even in the losses to Michigan and Stanford — the 44-7 blowout defeat against the Wildcats can be viewed as a major step back in Year 1 of Gary Andersen's rebuilding project. The Beavers were poor in all three phases. And coaches have been blunt all week about testing the players' commitment and adjusting personnel and schemes as necessary.
"I guess I would say I'm most confident in this coaching staff, which is generally very highly regarded, in motivating and doing what's necessary to help a young team rebound. Andersen also noted that he was actually pretty pleased with how the Beavers' offensive and defensive lines played against Arizona. OSU's run game has been pretty solid at times — Storm Barrs-Woods averages 5.8 yards per carry — and offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said they need to grind it out a bit more and take some pressure off true freshman quarterback Seth Collins, who is a supreme athlete but has the worst passing efficiency in the Pac-12. And maybe this defensive line can get some pressure on Luke Falk, given Wazzu's struggles up front so far this season."
What I'm confident in about Wazzu
Interactive Preview: Keeping the running backs involved
Will the dynamic trio of Earth, Wind and Fire get enough second half touches to put their imprint on this week's game?
Clutch. A real fire-starter use of terminology, but at this point, Luke Falk has proved he deserves it. WSU has played competitive games against everyone on their schedule -- regardless of opponent strength -- so the operating assumption would be that we'll see that continue. Falk has now led three touchdown drives of over 70 yards in under two minutes this year, closing out both halves against Oregon and for the win against Rutgers. And he's repeatedly converted on third and fourth down during crunch time all season.
Wazzu has a guy that's nails when it matters at quarterback, and even more impressively, he's just a redshirt sophomore.
[Jaws theme plays]. Continuing with "clutch", the Coug D only allowed six of 19 third down conversions (31.5 percent) against the Ducks. Cal converted 60 percent but outside of that, the defense hasn't allowed anyone to convert more than half their chances. WSU is developing a knack for bowing up on crucial downs, and Oregon State is 114th nationally in third down conversions at 32 pct.
Welcome to Thunderdome. Martin Stadium will be turnt. The Oregon game last year was the closest I've experienced to our home field approaching the game-day atmosphere it was during the 10-win seasons. I suspect we get to that level again this Saturday with a sellout full of happy alumni and insane students after the big road win.
This campus is thirsty for good football and it will erupt at every opportunity it gets this weekend ... which should be fun for the players and imposing as hell for Oregon State. Nothing helps the wheels to fall off an opponent quite like a rowdy home crowd.
Once upon a time, Martin Stadium consistently managed such a raucous atmosphere with its 33,331 attendees that EA Sports NCAA Football 2005 actually ranked it as the 24th toughest place to play in the nation. No opponents -- teams or fans -- like coming to Pullman. There's no direct flights, it's in the middle of nowhere, you can't stay in town, there's zero attractions nearby to rope into your trip, the weather is probably gonna be crappy, nearly half the stadium is a student section that never sits down or shuts up, and it's loud. Can be loud. Used to be very loud. Should be loud again.
Boss Mode. Gabe Marks is uncoverable. He could be wearing a defender like a cape with another over the top and I'd still think going his direction is a good idea. It rarely ever gets to that. Marks always finds open space and whether it's holding on to the ball while getting smashed in the front corner of the endzone against Rutgers, going toe-to-toe for highlight grabs against Cal wideouts, or laying waste to Oregon coverage DBs, Marks is constantly relentless and consistently unbelievable. We get to watch a really special player suit up in crimson on Saturdays.
Lack of laundry. Quietly, WSU is becoming one of the least penalized teams in the country. Which is odd considering A) they play in a conference that routinely leads college football in penalties and B) young teams typically lack the discipline to play an entire game clean. The Cougs are 10th in the nation, averaging 0.06 penalties per play, and are 11th in penalty yardage at 37.6 per game.
Leach doesn't mind some penalties, in general. To him -- and Grinch, who made similar comments this week -- getting defensive pass interference calls isn't always a lack of discipline, sometimes it means you're playing close to the edge. Which is right where you want an aggressive defense to be.
Your thoughts, Gina?
What scares you about Wazzu?
"That Cougars passing attack and the potential it has to shred OSU's secondary. The Beavers have given up a barrage of big plays in their first two Pac-12 games against Stanford and Arizona, the vast majority of them due to busted assignments that are driving defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake bonkers.
"As a result, there have been some adjustments, with redshirt freshman cornerback Dwayne Williams practicing a lot with the first-teamers over normal starter Treston Decoud, nickelback Devin Chappell playing a lot more safety and Cyril Noland-Lewis taking Chappell's spot at nickel. Additionally, the linebackers really struggled against Arizona, and they're obviously needed to make plays in space against the Air Raid.
"Plenty of Beavers fans (and current players) remember how Falk lit OSU up for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his first-career start last season, and I'd expect a similar type of showing Saturday if OSU can't quickly correct some things defensively."
How I think the game plays out
This game, like many others against Oregon State, is a fork in the road for WSU's season.
I don't think Wazzu comes out flat for this game, putting to bed some of those playing to the level of the opponent tendencies the Cougs exhibited at the beginning of the season.
Oregon State will run the ball well, especially Seth Collins, who has a knack for highlight yardage (and don't be surprised to see him try to leap-frog a defender, he's good for about one of those a game). OSU struggles throwing the ball, which I think causes them problems keeping up in the end. The Beavs are 120th in offense explosiveness, which is something that really needs to be a strength if you want to keep pace against a methodical Air Raid team like WSU and have a mediocre defense.
WSU's offense comes out firing on a defense that faced only 44 pass attempts in their last two games combined. OSU has decent numbers against the pass, simply as a product of facing run-heavy teams in Michigan, Stanford, and Arizona, which also skew the run defense a little more negatively than reality too. Ultimately, OSU's offense stumbles over a few consecutive three-and-outs and the Cougs continue to pull away.
Final score of WSU 45 - 17 OSU.
How do you see this game playing out?
"I'm downright fascinated to see how both teams respond Saturday following completely different outcomes last week. Dating back to 2013, the Beavers have lost 14 of 16 Pac-12 games, including a five-game losing streak in 2013 and a four-game skid last season. So I'm curious to see if OSU can squash this and chalk it up to a bad afternoon or if things snowball again. Conversely, does Wazzu ride this positive momentum or have a letdown after such a thrilling win at Oregon? I picked Washington State to win 34-20, but nothing would surprise me given the wackiness of the Pac-12 this season."
Huge thanks to Gina! You can follow her on twitter, and be sure to keep an eye on her OSU coverage here, they have quite a few good things on deck for the game. She also wrote about Seth Collins trying to move on from last week's clunker, OSU coach Gary Andersen's relationship with Luke Falk, and where the reeling Beaver defense goes from here.